As 2021 becomes increasingly the year of the ‘staycation’, where better for a weekend city break than the historic University town of Cambridge. The unforgettable backdrop of films from Chariots of Fire to The Theory of Everything, Cambridge is at once a timeless University town made up of 31 colleges and a bustling and vibrant city.
The food scene is second to none with a range of outstanding independents and wonderful coffee bars. Just off the famous market square in the historic heart of the city is Cambridge’s not-to-be missed Sicilian café Aromi. The length of the queues snaking round the narrow streets in the heart of lockdown attest to its excellence:
We are all ready to be cheered by ripe Sicilian tomatoey goodness on crisp pillowy pizzas bases, topped with a magnificent array of artichokes, hams and snowy mozzarella cheese fresh from the oven.
Best enjoyed (if you are lucky enough to squeeze yourself a spot at one of their little wooden tables), with a hearty glass of juicy Sicilian Nero d’Avola red or perhaps a nice after-lunch expresso and piece of pistachio cake.
Take a stroll down King’s Parade, visit the historic University Colleges such as King’s College, Peterhouse and Gonville & Caius, each their own little world tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the narrow streets and boasting beautiful lakes, libraries and chapels. Visit the city’s Fitzwilliam Museum – with a magnificent permanent collection from illuminated manuscripts to Impressionist and Italian Renaissance masterpieces.
Now taking bookings for the newly opened temporary exhibition ‘The Human Touch, Making Art, Leaving Traces’ (on view 18 May - 1 August 2021). Also not to be missed is Kettle’s Yard, the University of Cambridge’s modern and contemporary art gallery.
Excellent coffee shops abound – particular gems including Hot Numbers and Bould Brothers, the perfect pitstop after an afternoon of culture and shopping (from leading high street chains to local market stalls) the city has to offer. Or while away the afternoon away amongst the well-stocked shelves of G. David Bookseller and Heffers bookshop.
Wander down to the river, or better still book a punt for the afternoon (the Cambridge version of the gondola) and spend a lazy afternoon seeing the city from the riverbank, ideally with a picnic and a chilled bottle of fizz (best place to pick one up is via a friendly recommendation from the award-winning Cambridge Wine Merchants).
Take a stroll down Mill Road, a cultural melting pot of independent restaurants, cafés and delis, supported by the local delivery service ‘Click it Local’ during the recent lockdowns and keeping the folk of Cambridge happily stocked up.
The theatre scene is taking off again, both outdoor and in. Highly recommended is the brimming program on offer from the Cambridge Arts Theatre, the ADC and the Corn Exchange, whilst not to be missed is the yearly Cambridge Shakespeare Festival (12 July -28 August 2021) where the atmospheric scene is set amongst the gardens of the University colleges. For the footie fans, get your ticket for next season – with Cambridge United FC newly promoted from League 2 to League 1 - a fantastic achievement for a small town club.
Fancy a bit of escape from the city? Book a ticket (available online) for the Cambridge Botanic Gardens, a green oasis in the heart of the city, or hop on a bike (or a punt!) and venture into the nearby village of Grantchester to the famous Orchard Tea Garden. Tuck in to a traditional afternoon tea replete with sticky jams and freshly baked scones and laze on the deckchairs backing onto the meadows and the river Camb – a favourite haunt of the Bloomsbury group, poets and philosophers including Rupert Brooke, Virginia Woold, Alan Turing and Bertrand Russell.
Later this month, the gardens will be the backdrop to the concerts of the Eboracum Baroque group who will be performing Baroque classics in the long summer evenings (tickets available through their website). Whilst in Grantchester, pop into the Cambridge Distillery making Cambridge’s very own gins from local botanicals, or better still book in for gin or cocktail masterclass.
And before you leave – head into Cambridge’s Fitzbillies bakery and teashop which recently celebrated its 100th birthday - a century of Chelsea Buns and all manner of cakes and bread, behind its original Art Nouveau facade. Be sure to purchase one of their famously sticky and delicious Fitzbillies Chelsea buns, oozing with syrupy goodness and stuffed with delicious currants – a perfect taste of Cambridge for the journey home.